PEN WORLD VOICES - INTERVIEW: Georgian Writer David Dephy's Second Skin
Editor's Note: This interview is part of an ongoing series that has grown out of Wild River Review's coverage of the World Voices Festival. Devid Dephy appeared at the PEN WORLD VOICES FESTIVAL in 2011.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary...”
David Dephy's voice rises clear and distinct through Starbucks near the United Nations Plaza giving Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem "The Raven" a syncopated energy: "Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore...”
Dephy's love of language and rhyme is contagious. "Suddenly there came a tapping," continues Joy Stocke, WRR’s Editor in Chief.
A moment before, Dephy had gleefully shared how Poe's short story "MS. Found in a Bottle" was an influence on Herman Melville and his literary classic, Moby Dick. "You never know how the work of a great writer will filter into your own work," he said, and smiled.
Novelist, poet and performer, Dephy is a literary celebrity in his native Georgia, and grew up under the under the oppression of Russian dictatorship and President Eduard Shevardnadze's corrupt presidency.
"But I listened to American singers such as Elvis Presley and Pink Floyd," he says, "and dreamed of the freedom writers had in America."
His work reflects westernized influences in play with the Georgian language and includes performance art, music, poetry, and novels. the slogan “Stop Russia,” which was taken up by the youth movement.
Absolutely New York is the title of the project Dephy set for himself last spring when he appeared at the PEN American Center's World Voices Festvial in 2011, a nod toward the city's ability to spark the dreams of writers and visitors like himself.
Literature, to me, is like a big space full of these bridges: bridges between us, between cultures, between characters, between people and between past and future. And between another time beyond future, beyond the dead and beyond somewhere I don’t know.
Of course literature is not going to disappear. Everybody said 20 years ago that newspapers were going to die. No. Newspapers still exist. Books still exist. Radio and television still exists. The form changes, but to communicate, to build bridges, we must change with the form. This is life’s energy.
I’m not against progress. I realize and I understand how Ebooks are becoming the biggest part of contemporary life. But in regard to books, I have a fear about losing what I call “skin-book-touch feeling."
Dephy: I was born in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, in 1968 on the 21st of June. I finished high school at the Johann Sebastian Bach Fine Arts Academy and institute in Germany. My mother was a specialist in the German language. My father was a physicist. His name was George. My mother’s name is Rowana because my grandfather (who gave me this name Dephy) was absolutely crazy about Sir Walter Scott. And when he was a student, he read Ivanhoe.
My father was my best friend because he was an open-minded and open-hearted person. He had a very clear and very strong energy--a very clear spirit. He was like the Empire State Building to me. And now he’s supporting me from heaven, I suppose.
Anyway, I started writing when I was twenty-four years old. I was working for television, for newspapers and for radio. I also played the leading roles in featured films (among them dramatic films), but I’m no actor.
Dephy: Yes. I was young and I would listen to Pink Floyd because of the album The Wall, which was dedicated to tearing down the Berlin Wall--the symbol of oppression for the countries in the Soviet block. All walls are bullshit between us. Why would we build walls around us and between us? I have no idea why, because Earth and the space in the sky exists without any borders.
Life is long, but it goes fast. We have no time to bullshit, right? That’s why I consider poetry to be a big sacrifice because it passes through walls. Poetry was, and poetry will always be, everywhere to me; in Russia, in Georgia, in Europe. Everywhere. It’s like fresh air. It’s like our justification for existence on planet Earth.
“David, what are you doing, man?" they said. "You are crazy. This is Russia’s territory. This is the Soviet Union Army and you with the American flag?”
And I said, “Maybe I’m crazy, but my craziness is absolutely normal to everybody except you, because you must have your own opinion about everything. You’re alive, man. You are human. You are not a bush, or stone."
Dephy: I published novels, seven books of poetry, two audio albums, and poetry audio albums with orchestra and electronic band. I write all the time.
Dephy: Absolutely. Love is the biggest responsibility and responsibility will give you freedom. Freedom without responsibility is madness.
Later he emailed and said, “Dephy, I need your poems.” And I sent him five of my poems. He choose me to participate with Laurie Anderson in New York at the 92nd Street Y for an event called The Second Skin.
WRR: Laurie Anderson is a role model for so many and it was fun to watch her interact with you and the other poets, including Yusef Kumanyakaa and Pia Taldrop. What was it like to meet Laurie and work with her?
Jakab and Laurie went off and seemed to be talking about me. And I thought, but why so long? What happened? It’s a minute, two minutes. It’s too long. One minute of silence is like a century.
And then Laurie came to me, very close, and said, “My lovely David Dephy, you are twenty-first century poet. Come on. Let’s drink coffee.”
Because for me, every word is alive and we are alive, too, as long as we understand one another, as long as we believe one another. And also if our inner world and this multi-language dictionary of mankind accepts the following words: poetry, freedom and responsibility...then the world will also survive.
For me, this is the mission of literature and a justification for existence. I repeat these words many times, but will say them again: Life is long, but it goes fast and we must catch every mortal moment.